Contact Frequency: How Much is Too Much?

Sep 7, 2017

Determining the optimal customer contact frequency

Since the early days of marketing, marketers have struggled with determining the optimum amount of customer contact. Too much and you risk oversaturating your customers and degrading brand equity. Too little and you risk under serving their needs or leaving money on the table.

I’ve always referred to this dynamic as “intensity” – as in, the intensity from all direct contacts to our customer list. It was an ever-present, but hard to measure, factor that we needed to account for in our campaign and list segmentation planning and forecasting. At its core, this issue still exists today as witnessed by the many inquiries we receive from our Kobie clients, and from my own more recent client-side experiences managing large and complex lifecycle marketing and CRM programs. Questions around contact frequency are further complicated by the array of additional channels and marketing goals of a relationship marketer. No longer is the strategy focused solely on short term conversion and revenue growth; marketers must also be focused on customer success and building sustainable ROI through two-way dialog and personalized, relevant experiences.

Art and Science

Successful direct marketing has always come from a blend of art and science. Art in how to create and manage effective communications and science in using data to measure results, drive decision-making, and inform planning. In today’s more sophisticated marketing world, tackling contact frequency decisions are no different. Marketers must be creative and use intuition to identify and anticipate new tests and testing approaches, yet still be diligent in their use of data to measure, test and learn. An approach that combines both art and science can help marketers answer questions such as: how many times should I communicate to my customers? What is the optimum communication cadence? Or, what policies do I need to use to manage and control how we communicate?

Answering these questions requires testing and testing takes time. Even after jump-starting your testing with a set of creative hypotheses, it still requires time to execute a plan. This plan should account for customer segments, channels, communication/message types, stated customer preferences, and most importantly, solve for revenue growth.

Start Simple

Testing for optimum contact frequency is often not an area where marketers have a great deal of history or data. This may be due to competing test priorities and resources, or what happens in many organizations – ownership of customer communications is shared across several areas with no central management balancing the needs of the customer and the needs of the company (in fact, this decentralization issue is so prevalent that it is a topic worth exploring further in a future post). Piecing together old test results may provide some useful clues for determining a starting point, but often marketers must make some gut calls at the outset. This may be something as simple as a policy that sets a maximum amount of contacts allowed to any single customer within a certain time frame. For example, no more than two promotional contacts and two non-promotional contacts in a week, for each channel. While this is not terribly strategic, it is a starting place from which to begin testing against. Balancing short term targets with long term success, and company vs. customer considerations is the goal.

Customer Preferences. Letting your customers tell you how much they want to be contacted may be a slippery slope. While it is a generally accepted best practice, and may be a useful guide for determining a starting point, customers often say and do very different things. If preferences are being collected they should be honored. However, ultimately, it is best to let your behavioral data guide the optimum approach, while letting your customers feel that they are in control without locking yourself in as a marketer.

A one-size-fits-all approach is likely not ideal over the long run and not where you want to end up. A more informed strategy must evolve over time, one based on data and creative testing.  

Strategic Considerations

So what are important elements to consider for creating a customer contact plan and what does a more considered strategy look like? Luckily for marketers these elements tend to be readily available and already used in overall marketing plans.

  • Channel
    The most effective lifecycle marketing plans use multiple channels to communicate their message and build dialog with their customers. In general, consumers have different contact frequency tolerances depending on the channel (lower for push messaging and higher for email for example). To start, rather than focusing on the entire experience across all channels it is helpful to focus on each channel individually. Over time, your test plan should also help answer what the optimum contact experience should look like across all channels. Since email continues to be the go-to channel for most digital marketers, we’ll focus on managing email frequency.
  • Customer Engagement
    Not all customers are created equal. One customer’s level of engagement may be very different from another customer’s. “Engagement” here means are you getting opens and clicks on your emails. This information is typically either already captured in your data warehouse or can be accessed via your ESP. Segmenting your email campaigns based on your customer’s level of engagement with your messages is an important variable for determining frequency. In general, the higher the level of engagement is, the more the customer is demonstrating that they are receiving value from your communications, and the more they can support additional communications.
  • Relevancy
    Not all types of email are created equal. Just as there are differences in your customer base there are also differences across the types of email being sent. All mature email programs deploy several types of email – from purely transactional to content-focused to purely promotional, with various shades in between. They also contain varying levels of personalization and context from things like real time triggers. For example, loyalty programs may use triggers to notify members they are near a reward level, or as a follow up to members browsing reward options online. All of these factors contribute toward relevance – how interested will the customer be in your email message. The more relevant a message is the less intrusive it is, the more favorably it will be received, and the more you can send without contributing to opt-outs and causing a negative impact to your brand and ROI.

Putting it all together

Managing each of the above variables is important for developing a more considered approach to contact frequency strategy. Combining them can provide the guidance so many marketers are looking for. A simple cross-tabulation of engagement and relevancy levels can provide an approach that allows you to dramatically advance beyond a one-size-fits-all policy. Customized business rules can be managed across the resulting segments – accounting for an email with little personalization or context sent to a less engaged customer all the way to one of your most engaged customers receiving a highly personalized behavioral based trigger email. You may still want to impose a cap on the number of email over a specified time period, but you will now have created the ability to customize your contact frequency based on what you know about your customers. This strategy can also work well with a related challenge many marketers face, content hierarchy – the next-best-message to send to your customers. More on this in a future blog post.

Curious where to go from here? Remember, the goal is to determine what is best for your customers and your business – the key is to let the data guide you, gain the insights and learning over time, and remain flexible. Let our marketing and customer experience specialists help you. They can either make recommendations on your current communications materials, channels and plans or help put a plan together for you. Interested in hearing more? Contact us today.